Originally released in "Desk Memo #2" (2014)
When asked how we met, she usually answers first, but if I can I'll say things like: "it was in a cemetery, since we both love chandeliers," or, "rolling on the floor, since we both had jobs," or, "behind a curtain, since we were both trying to pass through it," and she'll laugh and say, No! and offer something funnier or more cryptic. I am a painter, she is a journalist. We live together in an apartment.
When I massage her lower back, she says she can feel the bottoms of her feet. Several times per day she brushes her teeth. The location on my body where I accumulate weight is behind my shoulders, whereas she has good posture. Before I had benefits a doctor called the curvature of my spine "scoliosis," but the dictionary defines scoliosis as "an abnormal lateral curvature," when it's clearly "a slight inward curvature" observable in my lower back. "Lumbar lordosis," says the dict, and the doc's mistaking a slight inward curvature for an abnormal lateral curvature begins to describe a trend.
For example, when I began to think of other situations with incongruities between things misperceived or misapplied to me or my body, and what I or my body have experienced or otherwise know to be true, I immediately alighted on painting, a practice characterized socially as "abnormally lateral," but which I experience as "a slight inward curvature." But then I thought of her in unrelated terms, like, "Her teeth are fine enough to be poached," or "If pulped, her hair would make beautiful museum-archival-quality black paper."
She is just returned from having work done. She is brushing her teeth. Weight measured in minutes rolls between my shoulders, gathering at the bottom of my spine, in the divot behind my liver. I taste my gold crown.
I am painting as I tell her these things, with my new little belly pressed into the bottom edge of the drafting table.
"While looking at you labor," she delivers, "It's true: it would be a lie to allege that you're less than alike to a little lumbering lord."
We had been losing our minds under the relentless shadow of my drafting table, so I had to take a job as a software analyst to get benefits. I adjust my chair and lean in over my wireless keyboard. I use a book of resumes from an elite university's journalism school as a stool. Some of my coworkers are journalists; some of them are graduates of the book's school. I considered whether these journalist coworkers might consider my deployment of the resume book as a stool a scoliosis in the office, until the stool no longer resembled a book, except sometimes still to me, such as when I turn its pages with my foot, searching for better support. The journalists no longer see it at all. I have considered how the book has proven not to be a symbol to these journalists, though it continues to be a latent symbol to me, and how this relationship I have developed with the resume book is a form of lordosis in the office.
The journalists invited me to a magazine-versus-magazine basketball event. I "shot" but did not "make" any free-throws. An opposing journalist said, "You shoot like a graphic designer," but to me the "shooting" resembled the physical acts of "scooping from a pile of money" plus "throwing the scooped money into the air." This image also sourced in part from the basketball game occurring during paid working hours. Each time the ball proceeded through the air, I saw the thrown bills raining down on the yard of a home I do not yet own. The home was not characterized by a shape, potential rooms, or a location, but by its apparent distance in time from the moment in which I failed to make the free-throws, and by the sound of uninterrupted wind, as emphasized by the basketball between the shot and the basketball's bounce on the ground, during which time the basketball could be called an "air ball." When it would hit the ground it would became a basketball again, with a bouncing sound that occurs for me at the midpoint between the sound of a distant shot heard from a nighttime apartment, and the sound of the keys of my wireless keyboard springing back up.
In its fresh state, the resume book was a perfect-bound stack of 8.5"x11" single-sided (but sometimes multi-page) black laser-printed resumes on stock white 20lb printer paper. The following remains true: The front cover sheet is color inkjet-printed with the university's logo on slightly heavier paper stock (suggesting to me that the cover was likely printed where the book was bound, and not with the resumes themselves); the perfect binding is blue; the book is about 1/2" thick; the book's title is "Graduating Class Resumes." But the resume book has fatigued: It is covered in my gray footprints, the edges of the first dozen resumes are worried and folded, and it has become difficult for journalists to recognize as "a book."
The process of re-realizing that my stool is a collection that can still be opened to show discrete, readable surfaces, despite its deteriorated condition, is patterned. First, when considering the stool, I wonder how many graduates of the journalism school consider themselves to be "working in their field," and how many of those who do are meanwhile not considered to be "working in the field" by their classmates (and are essentially considered to have scoliosis). Then I wonder how many graduates of the journalism school pursued their prestigious graduate degrees for some other reason, without ever having any intention of pursuing a career in journalism (i.e., via some private lordosis). Then I wonder:
1. If while sitting at my wireless keyboard "a lordosis" equals "my stool beneath the desk," and
2. If I could open and read my stool while thinking about the strange voice she uses to speak when she sleeps,
3. Whether a journalist somewhere could straighten my spine and read something interesting but unfamiliar there, only peripherally related to the container of my body, and wholly unrelated to the thinking they are doing about their work in their field.
A portion of Interstate 278 - the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway - is sunk below street level at the end of the apartment's block. I hear it in the apartment as a strong artificial wind rising from a canyon, interrupted and articulated periodically as "a highway" by trucks. This continuous sound enters the apartment primarily through the apartment's south, street-facing windows. The apartment slopes downward to the north, away from the street.
The head of the bed currently faces the street. I found it difficult to sleep facing in other directions, in earlier configurations. With head perpendicular to the street to the west or east, I felt inclined to roll north to the bottom of the apartment. With my body pointed north, blood rushed into my head, giving the highway an ominous resonance, as if the apartment had a failing engine, keeping me awake.
But when we sleep facing north this causes her to have nightmares. She calls out vague, disturbing things; they hang in the air like simple shapes. In a strange voice she might just say, No, and I will wake up adrenalized to a black square hovering over her, just above the bed. By the time I am myself, the shape will have dissolved into a confused familiarity without hovering meaning, and all I will be able to see is "an apartment," in a dislocated, noumenal sense that somehow suggests "all apartments." I become aware of my relationship to the shape of her sleeping head. I can feel the air on my skin where my t-shirt isn't touching the inward curve of my lower back. I can hear the highway like a latent symbol. I have read that you are not supposed to wake a person experiencing a nightmare. I roll her over and rub her lower back, and she makes a vocalization. I close my eyes, listening for unusual sounds to rise above the highway, on which I think I can hear the sound of night ships rowing, though I cannot decipher the exact sound at the source of this image, or its meaning, a black ship floating north at night, dragging along a highway.
In the context of "work" or "having a job," health insurance is often referred to as "benefits." Artists often refer to their delivered research as their "work," though as with the disjunction between common perceptions of abnormal lateral interests where one might personally experience a slight inward curve, it is unusual for an artist to be considered to "have a job." No artist I know has "benefits," in the sense of "health insurance," though "benefits" is also used to describe a kind of low-intimacy sexual access between friends, and I know many artists who enjoy this access on a basic, near-term level the same way that I enjoy reading online news at my job or drinking the alcohol we keep in the apartment.
While I do not speak for any artist, the artists who I have observed might not see their benefits in such a scoliotic light. Some have been to the emergency room with false names and social security numbers, to receive stitches or shots, and walked out without copays. Others have left town following imploded comedies of manners, only to wait two years before coming back laughing. Many of my colleagues in the field so observed would even call these benefits positively lordotic.
Though I can also say that I have known artists and journalists who require themselves to maintain jobs or friendships each for the sake of the respective "benefits," and without variation, these boring situations produce distracting, artificial wind.
Though I can feel the traffic in my teeth as I type on my wireless keyboard I have not deployed my benefits. When I look at her I think, "We are in a relationship." When I go to my job, I think about my "work" waiting at home, and my new little belly pressed against the drafting table. When I get home from the job I lie on the floor with the top of my head facing the street, and with my face facing the ceiling. Then, if she's home, she lies down on top of me, with the top of her head facing the street and her face facing the ceiling. Our bodies are justified at the tops of our heads, so her heels touch my shins. My knees touch the bottoms of her thighs. She rolls her legs to keep them steady on top of mine. When her hair itches my face I bite it. I can feel my lower back pressing down to reach the boards of the apartment, straightening.
Our days are of varying length and interest. She will talk about what she read on the train, or about how Manhattan felt, if she went into her office. I will speak about what I ate for lunch, or about interesting things I read online in the news. If she did not go into her office, she might talk about poems she read, or photographs she saw that made her feel physically small and weightless, a feeling that she experiences succulently, as she generally experiences her body to be powerful and centrally located, once using the word "Alexandrian" to describe this to me. If I did not eat lunch I will not speak because I will be hungry, able only to experience my lordosis, my itchy face, and her hair in my mouth. If either of us has been cooking, we will both be able to smell it. Sometimes she does not speak for a number of imaginable reasons, none of which I assume to be the one in any specific instance.
When neither of us speak, the wordless experience of my back reaching to touch the floor and my front pressed to her back and her resultant weight on my chest evoke being x-rayed in a lead cloak at the dentist's office. If we both close our eyes, I can feel a blue-gray hexagon in the air above us, spinning at a rate related to the audible traffic sounds, what few words we have spoken, and the presence of dinner smells. I read that dental hygienists leave the room during these x-rays because, over time, they would build up a great deal of radiation in their bodies, and could develop radiation-related complications. Lying on the floor, it sometimes occurs that I never leave the room when we do this. Is a build up taking place? When I open my eyes and she gets up, I see the ceiling, composed of white square tiles which remind me of her nightmares and the resume book.
Boring can mean "not interesting or tedious" or "making a hole in something." I read that an untreated cavity can result in an "inner decay," which can lead to a brain hemorrhage. I think about needing to go to the dentist as being a boring situation. Boring situations are expensive to deal with a la carte, but it is more expensive to "have work done." "Expensive" often refers to money, but generally means "marked by a large expenditure." In this sense, it is equivalently expensive to produce a painting at a drafting table, as it is to go to my job.
On my drafting table is a painting. Under my desk at work is a resume book. At the dentist I wear a lead vest. I sit in a different posture in each of these chairs. Each of them offers a view to different kinds of buildups, benefits, and borings.
She leaves town to have dental work done when we lose traction due to conflicting interests: I want to leave my job. When she gets back I will be happy to see her, though it is difficult to connect my awareness of that eventuality with my awareness of the apartment in her absence. I know that when she returns I will admire her teeth, much whiter than mine, and her posture, much more straight. I know I will tell her "painting and eating chocolate, plus I was sick" when she asks what I was doing. When I ask her what she was doing, she will begin by telling me about the bat that landed on her hand.
Until then the apartment will be unfamiliar. The walls will seem wet with the colors we chose and joked about; "camelot" and "encounter." The decorations are not selected from either of our previous rooms or collections, but accumulated and arranged jointly from the time since we met as "ours," and each will stick out as suddenly as shots, or slide dully into my awareness like the sound of my wireless keyboard, reminding me of the resume book by appearing to support an expensive practice.
So I drink the alcohol we keep in the apartment until I throw up: a boring and scoliotic situation with regard to my teeth, though I will set out on this course in pursuit of a kind of lordotic symmetry, wherein the increased need to have work done in my mouth might reflect the progress in hers.
As I am sick I recall a metaphor used by dorm boys I knew in college (when I first was sick from drinking) for "being sick from drinking": "praying to your porcelain god." In the metaphor, you are praying because you are bent over and experiencing an irrational eruption. The toilet is a god because to these dorm boys - who played lacrosse and called me a faggot - a god was the likely conceivable recipient for irrational, eruptive input, but to me it seems while vomiting confusedly synesthetic to ascribe a material composition or qualities to a god, such as "being cool against your forehead," as I understand gods to be pure noumena, suggesting "everything," and generally in metaphors that bar that, figurative, wherein "old god" parses but "variegated god" does not, et cetera, and while thinking about this metaphor's confused images, her interests and how they conflict with mine, and the wracking sensations of vomiting, I still easily imagine the universe prior to the Big Bang represented as a perfectly flat porcelain disc, hovering over her side of the bed.
Later, when I go to the dentist, I will be surprised to find that the cleaning room does not have windows and that the floor, a recently-mopped but non-reflective wintergreen linoleum, does not slope in any direction. I will find the dentist's chair to be much more comfortable than the chair at my work desk, and a world away from my studio chair, which has a straight wooden back.
But mainly I will be overcome with the sense that the dentist's chair does not face in a specific, fixed direction. If the cleaning room had clear walls, I will think, I could see a fixed view from some point on the ceiling down onto the apartment, as if the dentist's room itself moved finely and immediately around my body in the dentist's chair, rotating and sliding with mysterious smoothness to maintain a single point of view, consistent with the movements of my eyes and neck.
What I will actually watch during my visit while I have work done is a glossy white poster with four full-color square panels in deepening reds, showing healthy gums, gums with gingivitis, gums with periodontitis, and gums with advanced periodontitis. The panels will be arranged to form a square. At the bottom of the poster will be a title in an unfamiliar black serif that I will nonetheless think of as being "70s" that will read "Tips for a Healthy Mouth and Gums," proceeding to list the tips.
I will have a crown installed over a broken tooth; this will cost a considerable amount of money, considerably reduced by my benefits. The dentist will ask if I want a porcelain crown, but I will choose gold.
She works primarily as a travel writer. I do not think of her as "a journalist" - though by quantitative measures (e.g., followers, bylines, paychecks) she is working in the field - because I know she thinks of herself privately as a poet. When asked how we met, she always answers first:
"It was at an acupuncturist, he wouldn't stop tickling me."
"It was in the emergency room, we were both totally bored."
"It was at the optometrist, he licked my eyeball."
"It was at the dentist, we both love having that lead vest on."
"It was in the court, where the little lord used to preside, haven't you seen his gold crown?"
She believes in having and communicating experiences, whereas I believe in working with a clear mind, which causes us to have disagreements. She gets bored and has to have work done in a distant town. While she is gone instead of lying on the floor I get into the shower wearing a towel. When she gets back she will tell me a story about how a giant bat had got into her chateau, and scared everyone (her photographer, her guide, one of her sponsors) by flying around their heads, until her guide actually drew a gun to shoot it, before the sponsor made a contraption, caught it, and let it outside.
Standing in the shower wearing the towel I feel myself lying in the dentist's chair in the windowless directionless room, looking down at her through the pink mouths on the poster from what I understand to be the swooping perspective of the bat, wanting to hang on her hand. When I succeed in hanging on her hand, she comes home and tells me about it, laughing and re-experiencing the strange excitement of the moment. Then we have dinner. Then I feel compelled to go to the drafting table to begin a months-long attempt at representing the totality of this accumulation in paint on museum-archival-quality paper, while she goes to her desk, to finish representing her "real" experience directly in text accompanying photographs over the course of the next few hours, a day ahead of her deadline.
But before she comes home I go to work with a hangover. Sitting at my desk I take my feet off of the resume book and lift it up, shivering with the sudden idea that its contents might have been interesting and relevant to me all the time, and that perhaps I had misinterpreted a useful gift delivered to this place for me as a latent symbol directed toward my journalist coworkers. After a dozen pages of destroyed resumes it begins to list known accomplishments, such as paintings I admire, and then unknown accomplishments, such as anonymous acts of bravery or selflessness in the face of confusion or purposelessness, and then a list of the best dentists in Brooklyn, from which I choose the one I will visit after she returns. It proceeds to list other tips not relevant to my field.
I wonder if any of the graduating students opted out of the resume book, or if the option was available to include a resume with the resume book wherever the resume book was distributed, but separate from the book itself, either above, below, or free-floating unbound between its sheets. Her resume is not inside. I wonder if any of the graduates of the journalism school paint. I wonder if anyone has ever stood on one of my paintings, which I begin to interpret to myself in the affirmative by understanding this to mean that having a longterm relationship with one of my paintings could improve posture or help to "reach something" in an abstract manner. But then I correct myself by thinking, no: Has anyone literally stood on one of my paintings?
Wondering if ever there could be an instance where this could help in a boring situation, I decide to bring home the destroyed resume book to wedge beneath the northern end of the apartment, to level the apartment's slope, to see if this helps with her nightmares. If it does not, and I see the black square hovering, I will take it to the drafting table in the dark, and begin marking it with horizontal vermillion lines, from from nine o'clock to three.
She comes back with nice coffee and two or three chocolate bars. The chocolate comes in gold foil, which I think about using to paper a wall of the apartment, and before doing so begin thinking of that room as "the treasure chamber." In order to create this foil wall, I know that we will need to eat 900 chocolate bars, equating to roughly $2700. I begin to think that we will fight and she will leave town requiring that I vomit 350 more times, over the course of about twenty years, and that I will have to have a tremendous amount of work done in that time - but then she lies on top of me, and I begin to feel free to think about stretching, or making a dental appointment, or painting, or other things.